With New York shows, Mariah Carey thrives on Christmas

Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City earlier this month. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City earlier this month. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Mariah Carey performs at the 82nd annual Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York City on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Mariah Carey performs at the 82nd annual Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York City on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City, on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City, on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City, on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Mariah Carey performs at the lighting ceremony for the 82nd Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan in New York City, on Dec 3, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - The festive wreath above the New York stage bore the insignia "MC" - at once "Merry Christmas" and the initials of the evening's attraction, Mariah Carey.

Indeed for the pop diva, the holiday and her identity as an artist increasingly go hand-in-hand.

It's been 20 years since Carey released All I Want For Christmas Is You, which quickly became a seasonal favourite with its bouncy holiday cheer infused by a touch of longing.

Carey has put out two full Christmas albums but now has gone one step further with a series of holiday concerts, which she hopes to turn into an annual event.

The inaugural extravaganza featured a dancing Santa, a three-metre tree and a half dozen happy child performers.

The six-night, sold-out residency, which runs through Monday night, takes place at an unusually intimate venue for the superstar - the 2,900-seat Beacon Theatre. Sunday's crowd ranged widely in age and nationality, and included - in relatively understated attire - younger pop diva Lady Gaga, who wrote on Instagram that Carey sounded "legendary".

"I've been talking about doing this Christmas show for a long time now, but this is the right time," Carey told the crowd, at times singing her words. "I could have done it earlier; I'm not saying that would have been a problem. I'm just saying it makes me feel so good."

But the full investment in Christmas comes amid a period of uncertainty for the 44-year-old Carey, who was the top-selling female artist of the 1990s and still holds the record for most consecutive weeks for a number one single with One Sweet Day, her 1995 song with Boyz II Men.

After a television stint as a judge on American Idol, Carey earlier this year released her 14th studio album - entitled, with no small amount of self-reference, Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse - to her weakest-ever chart performance.

Carey, who suffered well-publicised emotional problems earlier in her career, also recently split from her husband, Nick Cannon, with whom she has twins.

Perhaps most potentially damaging for her professionally, Carey - who has amazed audiences for years with her five-octave vocal range - has been caught missing high notes, including at this year's lighting ceremony for the emblematic holiday tree at New York's Rockefeller Centre.

Carey chose caution at times at the Beacon Theatre but managed to reach her soaring heights on songs including Emotions, one of several non-Christmas hits which she performed, even though her high notes were often drowned out by cheering fans who waved their arms as if at a mega-church.

At one point, Carey opened the bag of the dancing Santa and tried to hand one wrapped gift to a Japanese spectator, in a nod to her passionate fan base in Asia. The singer's tour to promote the latest album consisted entirely of dates in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Carey brought in a Gospel choir for the more religious Christmas songs but also entertained the crowd with acrobats and fresh-faced children whose repertoire ranged from tap-dancing to break-dancing to, simply, manic displays of joy.

If the show came off as sappy, Carey was well aware. Introducing Hero, her inspirational 1993 ballad, the singer said she has learned to embrace her music's raw sentimental impact.

"As schmaltzy as I always thought it was... if it's touched one person, even just one, that's all that matters."